Alright class! Can anyone tell me what vampires and municipal tax proposals have in common? That’s right! No matter how hard you drive a stake through their bleeding hearts, you can never quite kill them.
And sure enough, despite skewering that previous 2006 City of Geneva sponsored home-rule effort, it’s making the kind of comeback that would make Charlie Sheen green with envy.
For the uninitiated, home-rule, automatically bestowed upon Illinois cities with at least 25 thousand residents, semi-frees a municipality from state statute bondage by granting them a slew of broad new powers.
To quote the statute directly:
A home rule unit may exercise any power and perform any function pertaining to its government and affairs including, but not limited to, the power to regulate for the protection of the public health, safety, morals and welfare; to license; to tax; and to incur debt.
In other words, a home-rule city can better regulate rental housing, keep a tighter lid on drinking establishments, create special districts with ease, change its form of government (by referendum), and, wait for it…implement all sorts of new revenue streams including, but not nearly limited to, increasing property taxes without heeding the current State set limits.
Put more simply, especially in the case of Geneva, home-rule status is a license to tax without ever having to ask voters’ permission to do so. And the “kid in a candy store” analogy pales in comparison to what you’ll see when a local politician has fiscal carte blanche.
Since Batavia assumed home rule status in 2009, they’ve added a gasoline tax, raised their sales tax, started a rental licensing program (another tax), and, for good measure, though it’s not home rule related, they just increased their electric rates by 6.5 percent due to some of the most abysmal power purchasing decisions ever made.
As a result, there’s now a move underfoot to strip Batavia of it’s home-rule powers and the woman behind it has won every single tax battle she’s fought.
Using the same statute, Elmhurst increased their sales tax, and added a real estate transfer tax, a food and beverage tax, and a natural gas tax.
Downers Grove has imposed a gasoline tax, increased their sales tax, created a tax on service businesses, and threw in a hotel tax.
Let’s move on to Wheaton where they also increased the sales tax, and added a gasoline and a real estate transfer tax.
Remember when St. Charles and Seigles, Inc. went to court in 2004 over a home-rule based lumber tax? The fact that St. Charles lost that one didn’t stop them from trying.
And don’t even get me started on my hometown of Evanston which now taxes you for stepping outside the door and sneezing.
Almost every one of the aforementioned levies was the result of a budget deficit borne of poor city planning. C’mon! Why tighten your belt when you can unilaterally raise revenue? And Geneva Mayor Kevin Burns and City Manager Mary McKittrick are already salivating over the endless possibilities.
Thankfully for the rest of us, the problem the Mayor and Ms. McKittrick have is, with built out Geneva sitting squarely at around 22,000 citizens, the only way home-rule will ever happen here is if they can convince the voters to pass a referendum.
And the last time the City tried that, the prospect didn’t even make it out of the 12-person committee appointed by the Mayor. Fifth Ward Alderman Craig Maladra, who co-chaired that 2006 committee, and never met a tax hike he didn’t like, said they couldn’t convince people the city wasn’t just looking to grab more money.
Imagine that! The voters actually caught on to this one!
But getting back to our vampire analogy, get ready folks! Because certain city council and administration folks are about to start whispering all sorts of sweet home-rule nothings in your ear.
First, they’ll tell you they have no intention of coming after your wallet. Then they’ll say these “fees” will only affect outsiders. They’ll try to claim they only want to create a special downtown sales tax district (which is a whole new level of insanity). Why, they may even scare you with stories of how Geneva’s unique character is in danger and it can only be protected by home-rule powers!
But don’t believe ‘em dear friends because, in a city like Geneva where the municipal mindset reigns supreme and those in charge believe they’re always entitled to other peoples’ money, the fact that we, the voters, still have to approve almost any new levy is the only finger left in that vast and crumbling anti-taxation dike.
Lamenting the previous home-rule failure, Maladra also said, “You can educate until you are blue in the face, but it won’t help when facing ‘willful ignorance.’”
Yeah! Especially when that “willful ignorance” comes directly from the City Council.